TAMPA — No Florida teams were ranked in the top 10 when the preseason AP poll came out Monday — the first time since 1982 that the state has been shut out.
No Florida teams were in the top 10 when the USA Today coaches poll came out last week, either. Or when preseason magazines like Phil Steele, Athlon, or Lindy’s went to press over the summer.
When The Athletic published its preseason All-America line-up Monday, its first team featured zero players from the state. The only first-team selection from USA Today was Miami’s Lou Hedley. Which means that in a state that boasts 11 national championships and eight Heisman Trophy winners, the player with the most national acclaim is ... a punter.
As another season of college football nears, what does this all mean for state fans? Not much. But more than you might think.
Just educated guesses
Preseason polls are, of course, guesses. Educated guesses, but guesses, nonetheless. Five teams in the College Football Playoff era went to the final four despite starting outside the top 10. May be Florida or Miami will be the sixth.
Although the state was shut out of the top 10, the Gators and Hurricanes start 13th and 14th, respectively. The gap between either team and No. 10 North Carolina is small. It wouldn’t be much of an upset if the ‘Canes knock off the Tar Heels on Oct. 16, nor would it be much of a surprise if UF or Miami made it to a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl game and finished in the top 10.
But the Gators, ‘Canes and every other Florida team have undeniable issues keeping them from the top tier (Alabama/Oklahoma/Clemson/Ohio State/Georgia) and the next one, too.
Those issues add up to some concern — not worry, but concern — about where the state is and where it’s headed.
More talent needed
UF must replace a star quarterback (Bucs rookie Kyle Trask) and other high-end offensive skill players who were drafted. Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson are in the same situation, except they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt by recruiting the elite level necessary to reload rather than rebuild. UF hasn’t.
Miami has talent but major questions on both sides of the ball. Its defense ended the season by surrendering 99 points and almost 1,200 yards of offense.
Its offense hinges on the surgically repaired knee of former Houston transfer D’Eriq King, whose presence is vital because of Miami’s recent inability to recruit and develop top quarter-backs.
UCF used to belong in this conversation but slipped under Josh Heupel, especially on defense.
Florida State is in a years-long climb toward national relevance and doesn’t belong in the top 30, let alone the top 10. Same with USF. A bowl game would be a victory for either program.
Not a one-year dip
The teams’ individual issues add up to reason for collective concern because this isn’t a one-year dip. This is the latest reminder that the Sunshine State’s power has darkened, at least temporarily.
No state teams finished in the top 12 last year. No team in the state signed a top-10 recruiting class last cycle, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Florida hasn’t had a national champion since 2013 FSU, which means we’re in the middle of its longest title drought since Miami won the state’s first crown in 1983.
Meanwhile, Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State, laden with some of this state’s most talented players, show no signs of slowing down.
The good news here, beyond the obvious volatility of pre-season rankings, is that college football is cyclical. Aside from a few recession-proof programs and perennial cellar dwellers, teams ebb and flow as rosters turn over and coaches come and go.
But as this offseason flows into the season, Florida’s position in the sport has ebbed. And for who knows how long.